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stretchy soft sensors imperial college technology break through

Imperial researchers bond over stretchy sensors

Researchers at London’s Imperial College have found a way to create soft, stretchy sensors by bonding rubber to electrical components.

Until this research breakthrough, stretchable sensors have not been viable because of the difficulties of integrating soft materials with electrical components, such as chips, for any length of time.

Imperial’s bioengineering team have now invented a way to bond force-sensitive soft materials, such as rubber, to the components.

The technique uses small pieces of metal-coated silicon, which create a chemical bond with the rubber. The silicon contacts are smooth on one side, where they bond to the soft material, and pitted and plated with copper on the other, so wires and electric components can be attached.

According to the research, the new bond is so strong that the rubber itself will break before the bond does.

Among the countless applications for this technology could be wearable sensors, medical devices, and smart patches that could fit around hands, arms, shins, or feet. Use cases include health and fitness monitoring, smart clothing, and devices to help with patient rehabilitation after injury or stroke.

The long-term aim is the production of soft, low-cost sensors that are both reliable and lightweight, according to report first author Michael Kasimatis from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College.

“Such sensors could be coupled with a mobile device, such as a smartphone, so that the data they generate can be easily processed and stored in the cloud, which is important for applications in digital healthcare,” he explained.

The team is currently looking for partners and funders to help commercialise and advance the technology, said Lead researcher Dr Firat Güder: “Having successfully demonstrated how this new bonding approach could work and be applied in laboratory prototypes, we now want to take this technology out of the lab and make it available to everyone.”

The report, Monolithic Solder-on Nanoporous Si-Cu Contacts for Stretchable Silicone Composite Sensors is published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.